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4. CHAPTER IV

SEVEN YEARS AS A JOURNALIST

I SUPPOSE all men of average human capacity are more or less conscious of their own faults. I believe my cardinal fault through all the days of my physical strength has been precipitate zeal. If a thing of hazard had to be done, I was always ready to do it. It was this quality of my nature which impelled me to enter upon the career of a journalist. I had no practical experience in journalism; knew nothing of the printing business; and I was never reputed to be a man of good business capacity. But my personal reputation stood high, and my energies knew no limit. Though thirty-five years of age, I had never been sued in a court of law or involved in any serious dispute; and in all my personal relations I believe I stood well with my neighbours. My first appearance in the courts was as defendant in an action for libel, not long after my start as proprietor and editor of ‘The Empire,’and all my personal troubles date from that, to me, unfortunate enterprise.

A public organ was wanted by our young party, and I came forward to supply the want; and while no one attempted to dissuade me from the undertaking, I


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met with encouragement from nearly all my friends. I was myself intoxicated with the hard and exciting mission of a propagandist. It was assigned to me to create and spread throughout the land a sound and enlightened public opinion. So I regarded my task. I looked steadily at the work to be accomplished, and I never stopped to count the cost.

The first number of ‘The Empire’was issued on December 28, 1850, and the journal announced itself as an advocate of a wide extension of the franchise, the reconstruction of the representative system on a population basis, a more comprehensive system of education, suited to the circumstances of the colony; and it declared against all taxation except such as was necessary to meet the expenses of Government. The first four numbers were published weekly, but on Monday, January 20, it appeared as a daily paper, for the first six months only half the size of the weekly issue, afterwards the full size. At this time there was one daily paper in Sydney, two or three weekly papers, and not more than half a dozen papers in the country districts. ‘The Empire’had an uphill struggle, but it pushed on; and in the course of time it collected a staff of excellent writers, among whom in its earlier years were James Martin, Daniel Henry Deniehy, Sir Thomas Mitchell, Edward Butler, Angus Mackay, and others. Very early in the management I learnt some of the sound rules of journalism—not to allow persons, under the guise of contributed articles, to use the paper for their own purposes; not to allow personal bias to colour the reports of speeches, to insist upon facts as the basis of


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criticism, and to respect the precincts of private life. On the whole, I was fortunate in the gentlemen who were associated with me, and I soon began to revel in the atmosphere of the editor's room.

Circumstances, to be spoken of with greater fulness at a later stage, opened fields for spirit and boldness in the conduct of the paper; and two events of special magnitude brought it into the broad light of day. These were the discovery of gold and the Crimean War. Steam communication with England was a thing talked of; the electric telegraph had no existence in the colony. It was quite a fierce competition—sometimes a work of ingenious strategy—to obtain English news from a sailing ship, which might make a long or a short passage, and whose arrival was a matter of calculation until she hove in sight. ‘The Empire’had a whaleboat with a crew of four picked oarsmen, besides the reporter, which often went miles out to sea to meet an expected ship. By this kind of adventurous competition, and by other means, we were in the majority of cases the first to publish the news. There would be a crowd of many hundreds waiting in the street before the office for ‘The Empire’‘extraordinaries.’There were occasions of much excitement all through the period of the war with Russia. At this time I had been elected to the Legislative Council. One of the nominee members was the late Mr. Broadhurst, a well-known barrister of the period, who was as eminent for his wit as for his law. I was on one occasion in the library watching the flagstaff from the window, expecting to see the signals hoisted for a ship


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from London. Mr. Broadhurst came in from the Chamber, where a heavy debate was going on. ‘How is this,’said he, ‘not listening to your colleague?’(the member speaking). I simply replied, ‘I am watching for the ship signals.’‘Oh,’said he, ‘I see your attention is flagging.

In respect to the gold discoveries, Mr. Edward Hammond Hargraves made his first revelations in our office, when they came, as it were, from a region of dimness and uncertainty, at the time when Mr. Wentworth foretold all kinds of ruin and disaster among the consequences. ‘The Empire’was the first journal to send a ‘special commissioner’to the goldfields, the person chosen being Mr. Angus Mackay, afterwards Minister for Mines in Victoria. Altogether the new elements of interest and excitement arising from these pregnant events gave a great impetus to ‘The Empire.’

A serious economic difficulty in the management of ‘The Empire’arose from the gold discoveries. The wild and sudden rushes to the goldfields were contagious among printers as well as among others, and wages rapidly increased until compositors could earn 10l. to 12l. a week. High wages nearly always have a vicious effect on the worst portion of those who are the recipients. Men of a reckless disposition and of irregular habits seem to take an inexplicable delight in embarrassing their employers, and in too many instances the better disposed weakly yield to their insidious influence. With money in their pockets and many demands for their services, they love to make their independence disagreeably felt. If they are urgently


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wanted at their post, for that very reason they will absent themselves. I hope I make it quite plain that I do not include the respectable portion—the large majority—of the artizan class in this description. In my case they combined in the following manner. One Saturday evening the compositors held a meeting among themselves, a ‘Chapel,’as the trade term expresses it, and passed a resolution to the effect that my non-compliance with their demand for an increased price for one particular kind of work was equivalent to dismissal, and they accepted it as such. On this resolution being presented to me I sent for the men, who came into my office to the number of seventeen. I expostulated with them on the unreasonableness of their conduct, explained that I was acting under the advice of my overseer, who was a practical and an experienced member of their own craft, and that it was a rule in the office, both on the part of the employer and employed, to give a fortnight's notice in terminating their employment. I further reminded them that some of them were under a specific agreement for three months, and that their passages from another colony had been paid by me. Finally, I offered to withdraw from the paper altogether the particular work in dispute, which did not amount to more than 2s. to 3s. in each case, or, as an alternative, I offered to abide by the decision of a general meeting of the trade, and if it was against me, to pay the amounts which had been withheld. After all this the men came in for their wages, and, on paying them, I argued the case over again with each individually, but to no purpose. They persisted in refusing


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to bring out the paper on Monday morning, which, in the state of things then prevailing—the impossibility of supplying their places—threatened absolute ruin to me. I had, however, some means of averting the worst consequences. Some of my reporters were compositors by trade, I knew one or two gentlemen in other callings who were compositors, and I had some smart lads as apprentices. By the zealous help of this rather motley group of emergency hands the paper duly appeared, though reduced to half its usual size. On the Monday I applied for warrants against the whole of the seventeen men for conspiracy, which were issued; the men were arrested, and committed to take their trial for the offence. They were all admitted to bail, I myself becoming bail for one of them. In due course they were tried before the Chief Justice (Sir Alfred Stephen) and Mr. Justice Therry, and convicted, all but four receiving sentences of imprisonment varying from one week to six weeks. The four others, in consideration of their slight participation in the proceeding, and their good conduct, were sentenced to a nominal imprisonment —namely, until one o'clock the next day.

This painful episode in my life as a journalist has very often been brought forward in exaggerated form to injure me in public estimation, but I do not think I have ever suffered from such attacks. In less than three months after the occurrence I became a candidate for the representation of Sydney in the Legislature, and my infamous conduct in ‘imprisoning the printers’was posted everywhere on the walls of the city; but I was elected by nearly two to one, and I


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know that some of the men themselves gave me their votes. In justice to myself I give one passage from my evidence before the police magistrate (Mr. J. S. Dowling) when the men were committed, omitting the names, except that of my overseer, Mr. M'Kelly. I am thus reported:—

I drew their particular attention to the fact that I did not dispute the justice of their claims on my own judgment, but if they could convince me that it was right I would pay it. They then went away, and held another meeting. I waited until they had done, and then they came up to be paid; I was there till ten o'clock that Saturday night; they all came to be paid with the exception of two. I spoke to them all individually as I paid them; to ——, who came first, at some length; this is one of the men engaged at Port Phillip, whose passage I had paid from thence to Sydney; he had only been with me one week, so I asked him if he was going to leave me in this manner; he said he was under no agreement to stop, and he should certainly leave. I then asked him if he thought he was using me rightly by so doing; he shook his head, and said he could not help it. I then asked him if he thought he was justified in leaving without giving a fortnight's notice, as was the usual custom in the trade. He said, ‘Yes; on an occasion like this he would do as the others did.’ He then went away, and has not since returned or offered to return to his work. The next man was ____; he said he was very sorry, he liked the establishment very well, and also liked Mr. M'Kelly, the overseer. I asked him if he was going to leave; he said he must do as the others did. Mr. M'Kelly was present at this time. I made similar enquiries of all as I paid them. ____, whose passage I had paid from Port Phillip, said he wished to give me a fortnight's notice, as he thought of going to the ‘Herald.’I said, ‘Very well; will your three months be up then?’ He replied, ‘About it.’Knowing that his time had nearly expired, I took his word as correct, and merely added that I was sorry he was


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going, but could not expect anything more than a fortnight's notice; when, to my surprise, he said, ‘But, as the others are going, I must also leave now.’I then said, ‘What! Give me a fortnight's notice, and then leave instantly?’ and he said, ‘Yes, as the others are going, I will go with them.’I spoke to ____, for whom I felt some respect, and asked him if he was going. He said he was sorry, but he must do as the others did. I also spoke to ____, and I reminded him that a similar combination of the trade had prevented him from earning his bread in Melbourne, for he had informed me when I first engaged him that at Melbourne they would not allow him to work in any office, because he could not show his indentures. I engaged him in consequence of the earnest solicitations of his sister, who had been a fellow-passenger with me some years since. I reminded him of all these things and he said he could not help it, he must go. I spoke to ____, and Mr. M'Kelly reminded him of his distinct agreement to serve three months; he said he would not work unless the extra money was paid. I spoke to others, generally in the same way, who gave me similar answers, and several gave me to understand that they were satisfied with the office generally. They all left, none returned to their work, and I ascertained afterwards that they did not intend to come back.

The Attorney-General (Mr. J. H. Plunkett), who prosecuted, said, in opening the case:—

The public, he contended, was indebted to Mr. Parkes, the proprietor of ‘The Empire,’for the stand which he had made against the attempt of the defendants, as nothing could be more detrimental to the interests of society than that such proceedings should be tolerated. It was the business of the Court and Jury in the present instance, by determining with an impartial mind between employer and employed, to establish a precedent which would be a guide for the future in similar cases. If a case had occurred wherein a number of employers had assembled together, and at once proceeded to dismiss those


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in their employ, throwing them on society, and suddenly depriving them of the means of procuring bread for their families, it would have been equally the business of the Public Prosecutor to institute rigorous proceedings. On the other hand, it was impossible that the business of the colony could be carried on if the employed were allowed to meet together, as it appeared the defendants had done, and pass a resolution that unless the conditions which they might choose to name were complied with, they would leave off work at once.

And again he said:—

From what he had seen and heard of the case, he was of opinion that the prosecutor had evinced all through a spirit of the greatest liberality, and had shown himself even willing to waive in a great degree his own rights in order to prevent the course which the defendants had adopted.

In passing sentence, Mr. Justice Therry thus characterised the case:—

There were many modes in which the claim, if a just one, might have been enforced; and it is impossible to hear the evidence of Mr. Parkes without acknowledging that the proposals he made for settling the matter were most reasonable and just, and such as every honest man must have been satisfied with.

And at a later stage in his summing up:—

If he had been a timid man, or one who regarded pecuniary profit in preference to the performance of a public duty, it would have been Mr. Parkes's manifest interest to have acquiesced in the demand, for the increase asked of him did not exceed 1l. 15s. per cent. on the whole work; but if he had succumbed in this instance, in what instance could he afterwards have resisted a similar demand? If he had recognised the right of the men to charge for any other description of work whatever sum they thought proper, with what consistency


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could he afterwards have attempted to shake off a tyranny to which he had once submitted, or resist their dictation to him at all future times, after he had once set up a precedent admitting their right to regulate and control his expenditure? He asked for a reason for this resolution. The defendants were silent, and refused to give any, and then forthwith proceeded— by substituting a menace to ruin him, for the reason the defendants refused to supply—to carry out their organised and preconcerted plan of going away if their wages were not raised.

The conduct of the compositors on ‘The Empire’naturally compelled me to think of what might arise at any stage in the future. Not only had the men disregarded the usage of the trade which they would have expected me rigidly to observe, and all reasonable considerations between man and man, but some who were under specific engagements had deliberately broken them, while others, who admitted that they had nothing to complain of, nevertheless joined the plotters; and they had thus banded themselves together apparently to destroy me, without giving me an hour's notice. I at once determined to protect myself as I best could from a second inroad of this unreasoning selfishness. I was aware that in Madras there was a class of men known as Eurasians, the sons of European fathers and Asiatic mothers, many of whom had been brought up to the printing trade. I immediately sent an authority to Madras to engage twenty-five to thirty of these Eurasian compositors for ‘The Empire.’I did not seek a reduction of wages, but only a certainty of the work required being done. The agreement authorised to be entered into on my behalf with the men was for a term of years at 4l. a week; and an eminent Judge


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of the Supreme Court of Madras, Sir William Burton, very considerately undertook to look after the interests of the men in their engagements. Not being sure that I could obtain compositors at Madras (there was no electric telegraph), I at the same time wrote to my London agents to engage ten English compositors. In due course the new hands arrived both from India and from England. My special object in sending to Madras was that, if the men could be obtained at all, they could be obtained in much shorter time.

I deem it necessary to explain these transactions as being among the consequences of the reckless strike of ‘The Empire’printers. I was quite prepared for the odium which a class would seek to fix upon me, and for the use which my political opponents would make of my conduct in the matter; but I have never felt that my reputation suffered at any time from these attacks. The working-men of the colony could easily discriminate between my case and the wholesale importation of Indian coolies or South Sea Islanders at a nominal rate of wages, with the avowed object of escaping from the burden of free labour. No one can more sincerely regret than I do the origin of these unfortunate proceedings in connection with ‘The Empire.’

It will hardly surprise the reader of these chapters that I often got into conflict with the law of libel, and looking back now, I am myself surprised that my afflictions in that way were so few. I held the opinion that timidity was one of the worst qualities in a public journal, and I cannot call to mind the occasion when any such charge was brought against ‘The Empire.’The


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gentlemen associated with me did not need much encouragement to write boldly, and there was no scarcity of subjects for animadversion. Though I should be sorry to defend everything that was written in ‘The Empire,’I still hold that in those times, when the country was passing from the Old to the New, a fearless journal performed a public service which can scarcely be over-estimated. From 1853 to 1857, all through the throes of constitutional birth, ‘The Empire’was a powerful organ of Liberalism, and a well-arranged newspaper. Its reports were full and accurate; its news columns generally had the attraction of life and freshness; and the medium through which it spoke its opinions was seldom wanting in vigour.

During these days Mr. Edward Wilson presided over ‘The Argus’(Melbourne) and he and I became friends. When he visited Sydney, he was often my guest, and many an hour we spent in talking over the prospects of the two papers and the fortunes of the two colonies. I have before me now a bundle of Mr. Wilson's letters which are full of interest in their chatty and discursive comments on men and things of the period. The colony of Victoria was in its very infancy, three to five years of age, and the elder colony was passing rapidly through those changes which gave it political enfranchisement and a vigorous public opinion. Both were still living under the hybrid constitution of 1850, with the dawn of constitutional liberty breaking over the new fields of their industrial life. Edward Wilson was then a Radical of the Radicals, however he may have changed when he retired


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from the active work of the colony with a fortune, to spend his latter days in London clubs and amidst the historic associations of Hayes, where he lived his last years, and died. ‘The Empire’introduced me to other remarkable men outside the sphere of journalism, Edward Smith Hall, in New South Wales, John Pascoe Fawkner in Victoria, Charles Gavan Duffy, and several men of much promise who are now nearly forgotten. Smith Hall was a veteran in the service of the colony. In the early times of oppression and cruelty, when there was a severe censorship over the press, he conducted a paper with marked ability, outspoken honesty, and courage, for which he suffered more than once the penalty of imprisonment. He battled bravely against the high handed proceedings of Governor Darling and against every abuse of power. The name of his paper, the ‘Monitor,’remained with him, and to the day of his death he was best known as ‘Monitor Hall.’I have had many chats with Mr. Fawkner on the first settlement of Port Phillip, and, in my own office in Sydney, on the political prospect before constitutional government was achieved. He was a shrewd, clear-sighted man, with fads and whims of his own, which did not materially qualify the value of his opinion on public questions. I shall have occasion to speak of Mr. Charles Gavan Duffy in other chapters.

Nearly all the men who afterwards represented the newly-formed Liberal Party in the early Ministries were in the habit of frequenting ‘The Empire’Office, and with some of them I became intimately acquainted. It is now more than a generation since my journalistic life


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closed—closed in absolute ruin to my worldly prospects; and those seven years of continuous labour have remained a blank in my existence. In the midst of other unceasing work I have seldom recalled any circumstance of that period of my past, which, whatever may have been its influence on the progress of the colony, left me nothing but the gleanings of bitterness and regret. In my family and among my friends the name of ‘The Empire’has been a forbidden word. Looking back to it now, and to the desperate efforts which had to be made throughout the agony of all industrial operations which followed the gold discovery, I recollect going home on the summer mornings when the sun was in the sky, and returning after three or four hours of sleep; and I recollect days and nights together without sleep at all.

But ‘The Empire’did its work—on the whole an heroic work—for New South Wales and for Australia. Beyond doubt it created the first distinct party with a Liberal creed and the means of vigorous action. A strenuous public opinion, embodying the most advanced views of the leaders of thought in England, took root in the land, threw up a rapid growth and spread widely. Nearly all the generous actors in that first Liberal movement are now in their graves. Among the later writers in ‘The Empire’were Charles Gavan Duffy, the Rev. B. Quaife, and T. L. Bright, and they sustained its power and influence to the last.

The enterprise of ‘The Empire’awakened an appetite for newspaper reading among the people, and stirred into a new activity those already engaged in


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journalism. The only other daily paper in the colony put out fresh energies and recast its organisation; and under the direction of the Hon. John Fairfax, a gentleman of clear discernment and strong character, it went through a succession of literary and mechanical improvements which made it twenty years ago—what it continues to be to-day—the first journal in New South Wales, if not the first in Australia. While this effect was produced in the Metropolis, newspapers began to multiply in the interior, and soon nearly every country town had its organ of political opinion. The newspaper press at the present time is a powerful institution in Australia, and affords the truest safety to the infant liberties of the Australian people. Men succeed in obtaining election to the Legislative Assembly who, beyond a rude power of speech, have few qualities to sustain them and conduct them to right ends in the business of Parliament, and the principles of government suffer grievously sometimes from their rough workmanship. But it may be accepted as a rule that the persons in charge of any public journal of importance, such as the daily papers in the great Australian cities, will use their best endeavours to secure not only talent and education, but judgment and character in the expounders of their political opinions. It is indeed fortunate for Australia that the shortcomings of her public men—any attempt to deceive, however adroit, any backsliding or tergiversation, however carefully cloaked—are soon detected and laid bare by the vigilance of the press. When I started ‘The Empire,’more than forty years ago, things were very different; and


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that journal's existence through the seven trying years from 1849 to 1857 had its share of influence in bringing about the gratifying condition of to-day.

The generation that witnessed the beginning and the ending is passed away. The electric telegraph, steam navigation, the higher and broader promise of Australian life, the inspiriting influences of Australian progress, have now given marvellous vitality and power to Australian journalism. The story of my efforts is hardly worth the telling, but as ‘The Empire’absorbed seven of the strongest years of my life, it seems best that, once for all, it should be told.

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